A cynical person may say: “Another year, another Need for Speed game”, and the cynic in me wanted to agree with that and brush off Need for Speed Rivals as a new entry into the series that I ultimately may not care about. I am happy to say, I am glad I was not that jaded game critic and really enjoyed playing Need for Speed Rivals on the Xbox One.
After some shifting of studio resources at EA in recent years the company finally founded Ghost Games which was formed originally as EA Gothenburg and transformed as it merged employees from DICE and Criterion together to form a development house that will be responsible for producing Need for Speed games going forward. Criterion Games of course developed the excellent Burnout Paradise as well as Need for Speed Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted.
Ghost Games stepped away from the city environments of last years Most Wanted and built a more open and diverse landscape that ties together various environments from the United States such as swooping forest roads or mountain passes that shine with snow. Rivals is a stunningly good looking game as it runs on DICE’s new Frostbite 3 engine. The same goes for the cars. Ghost Games has pulled in just about all the super cars you can imagine to see the battle between cops and racers take shape.
Players can play through Need for Speed Rivals in two modes. I don’t want to call them story modes as there isn’t enough of a narrative other than some videos with voice over showing off the next chapter, but it feels nice to have an added element to shape the experience. When playing as a cop, it will be be your job to chase racers and bust them, all while taking their Speed Points before they can enter their hide out. These Speed Points will allow you to purchase new cars and upgrades that unlock as you progress through the single player campaign.
The gameplay itself feels like most of the recent Need for Speed titles. Get into a fast car and speed down the road as fast as you can only to engage the breaks a bit and drift down a sweeping turn. I was able to build up my nitro by going into the opposite lane, near misses or long drifts. Rivals once again finds a great sweet spot between precision and simple fun. You can choose to win races by out-driving the competition or ram them off the road. Using pursuit tech to attack or defend yourself adds a nice twist to the cops and racers theme.
Playing as a cop is fun and taking the racers points can be rewarding after a long chase but it does not beat the rewarding feeling of getting away with massive amounts of points as a racer. I enjoyed busting some racers as a cop but spent most of the time playing as a racer myself, evading pursuits and completing objectives and challenges while unlocking new cars and pursuit tech gadgets.
The gamble as a racer can pay off big. Staying on the road longer will earn you more points as the wanted multiplier goes up with each heat level but if you don’t get into the hideout (here you buy new cars, customize and upgrade or add pursuit tech) in time before being busted by the police, the agony is face melting. There were many times I had to gather my thoughts and calm down after loosing hundreds of thousands of points to a bad turn. This is where Rivals shines. The epic chases and pursuits not knowing if you can make it back can be a nail biter and a half.
Ghost Games has also introduced an all new AllDrive system which blurs the lines between single player, coop and competitive modes. When loading up Need for Speed Rivals you will share the world with 5 other human players who may be cops or racers and complete their own campaigns but when you intersect with them in the world Rivals becomes a coop or competitive game on the fly. While you can still set up races with friends similar to Most Wanted, you will likely engage into a chase with another player. This means you could be doing your own race or challenge as a cop and you see a real player speeding down the freeway and this is where you engage the chase.
Players can help each other as well. If a fellow cop is trying to complete an objective or take down a racer you can help. The same goes for racers. As a racer I found myself engaged into pursuits with real players a lot. I would be driving down the road and completing a head to head race with an AI racer and all of a sudden a human cop engaged into a full blown chase with me.
To go back to my original statement from this review, I really didn’t think Need for Speed Rivals would engage me the way it did. Ghost Games has built a fantastic open world that is varied and incredibly fun to experience. I loved being in a world with other players as well as AI but would have enjoyed more human players to join a single instance than 6 at the time. Nonetheless, the new AllDrive system is super refreshing and having a play on cops and robbers like this will keep me hooked on Need for Speed Rivals for months to come.
Need for Speed Rivals was developed by Ghost Games and published by Electronic Arts for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on November 22nd and 15th. A copy of the Xbox One version was provided to us by Electronic Arts for reviewing purposes.